DALLAS - The Longview Independent School District will replace or upgrade most of its aging educational infrastructure with proceeds from a $266.9 million general obligation bond package if voters approve the measure on May 10.

The district, which serves most of the East Texas oil city of Longview, plans to build seven new campuses to replace 11 elementary schools and add classrooms and expand libraries at two schools, rebuild all three middle schools, and spend $34.7 million on additions and renovations at Longview High School.

The elementary school projects will cost $121 million, with $107 million allocated to the middle school projects. The district will also spend $4 million on upgraded computers and other technology equipment at all schools.

The Longview district's debt has an underlying rating of A1 from Moody's Investors Service, but carries an enhanced triple-A with its coverage from the Texas Permanent School Fund.

The bond project list was developed after a consultant conducted a survey of all district facilities. The list was presented to district trustees in November 2007. Consultant Paul Tatum said the district's enrollment, which is currently more than 8,100 students, has been declining for the past few years but should begin increasing again in the next school year. Enrollment is expected to top 9,000 students by 2017.

The existing facilities have aging, inefficient infrastructure, and 12 of the district's 15 schools are educationally and operationally obsolete, Tatum said in his report to the trustees.

Brian Bowman, director of communications for the district, said many of the Longview schools were built in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

"The average age of our buildings is more than 50 years, and we're still using one middle school that was built in the late 1800s as the original Longview High School," Bowman said. "We're going to use this bond program to build facilities larger than we need, and we expect to grow into them over the next five to 10 years."

The district considered breaking the reconstruction effort into two bond issues, one now and one in four to five years, Bowman said, but rejected the idea on the basis of economics.

"This is by far the largest bond issue this district has ever sought," he said. "It just wasn't economical, with construction costs rising at 12% a year, to split it up. Even then, we would have to decide which aging facility needed to be replaced now, and which ones we could operate for another five years."

A five-year delay would add nearly $200 million to the total cost of the projects, Bowman said.

It was also decided that building completely new schools was more cost-effective than renovating aging facilities. The district could add 20 years of life to an existing middle school with $33.7 million in renovations, but a new school with a 50-year service life would be built for $37.6 million.

"That doesn't include the lower costs of air conditioning and other operational aspects," Bowman said.

The grades included in the district's elementary schools vary, Bowman said, because of a desegregation order.

"You have one school with elementary and first grades, but down the road there is an elementary school with just fifth graders, and then the next one would have second and third grades. We don't have neighborhood schools," he said. "The new elementary schools will all be kindergarten through fifth grades."

Passage of the bond package would result in a property tax increase of $0.375 per $100 of assessed valuation, to a total tax levy of $1.51 per $100. If the district pays an interest rate of less than 5.15% and assessed property valuations increase more than 5% a year over the next five years, the district said, the tax rate would be lower.

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